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Ira Edwards’ life took many turns on his way to becoming a Reverend and founding member of Flint Area Congregations Together (FACT). Coming of age in Flint in the 1950s and 60s, Ira has seen many changes in his hometown, but his passion for serving others has never waivered.
“I’ve always felt a calling to look to help someone. If I came across a pick-up game in the neighborhood I wanted to know who was losing so I could join that team to make a difference. I like to see people brought up in their standing and lift their thoughts of others. As I got older, I enjoyed helping people rebuild their cars, and I loved teaching financial university classes to help folks get out of debt.
“While attending seminary in 2000, after the pastor was in a serious car accident, I was called to lead the congregation of Damascus Holy Life Baptist Church. I had retired from GM as a development engineer and senior buyer, so I had time. And I still felt my calling to give hope to the hopeless and help to the helpless. Now I do it as I seek to save one soul at a time modeling Jesus Christ.
“When I learned about FACT, I agreed to co-chair the organization from the beginning in 2007. I saw it as an opportunity to help more people than I could normally help on my own. The parent organization, People Improving Communities through Organizing (PICO) trained me as a community organizer, helping my colleagues and me identify the needs and issues affecting all 17 FACT-member church communities. Here in Flint, FACT identified infrastructure, public safety, housing and education as the key issues affecting the quality of people’s lives here.
“I focused especially on public safety, but we’ve helped address them all. FACT has worked with the city to take down blighted buildings and to build centers where kids can get tutoring. We also forced them to develop a plan for Flint’s future, and are now expanding to other communities as well. This broader focus has prompted FACT to adopt the new name Michigan Faith in Action and is now a statewide organization.
“One area where I see Flint changing is race relations. My favorite Bible passage is Amos 5:24: ‘Rather let justice surge like waters, and righteousness like an unfailing stream.’ The most segregated time in American is 11:00 Sunday morning when everyone goes to worship. But by working together with members from the Catholic, Baptist, Episcopalian, Jewish, Islamic, Church of Christ and others, we are helping to break down that separation that has held Flint back. About five or six years ago segregation began breaking down, and it’s continued ever since.
“I want to leave people of all faiths and heritages thinking: ‘How can I make it better? What part can I play in it?’ I have faith in Flint. It’s not going to be like it was. We’ll need to downsize and improve many things. But I’ve had a pretty good life here, and I’m sure future generations will too.
“As we work toward that future, I want to know I did all I could to help someone else. If I can do that as I travel on, then I know my living will not be in vain.”